Final Score: Chicago Blackhawks 5, Anaheim Ducks 3
The Ducks came out of the gate looking like they were ready to finally buck the trend of poor Game 7s, putting fair pressure on Corey Crawford and his defense early on. A couple of redirect attempts and looks from the slot failed to break through, and the Hawks' first opportunity going the other way made the home team pay. A point shot from Niklas Hjalmarsson got through to Frederik Andersen, who stopped the shot with his stick and left pad. Unfortunately, Jonathan Toews was parked out front waiting for a rebound, and when the chance presented itself, he got inside positioning on Francois Beauchemin and immediately slammed it inside the right post past Freddie's glove. Blackhawks 1, Ducks 0
Adamant to avoid a repeat of last year's Game 7 loss which saw the Ducks get opened up by the Kings fairly early and emphatically, Anaheim limited Chicago's looks to the perimeter, while trying to swing in on Crawford from the outside and work their way in to the low slot. Neither team got many pucks through to the opposing goaltender, and play remained fairly even until Brandon Saad drew a hooking penalty on Jakob Silfverberg while making a promising break towards Andersen. After a sluggish start to the power play, the Hawks got settled in enough to cycle the puck among their power play corps. Thanks in part to a screen in front of Freddie by Andrew Shaw, Toews released a wicked wrister that found the top right corner of the net, giving thousands of Duck fans everywhere a feeling of dread reminiscent of Game 7s past. Blackhawks 2, Ducks 0
The Ducks, again, refused to roll over, and they set up a few good looks from behind the net and a rebound or two off Crawford, but sloppy play shot themselves in the foot. Inaccurate passes, fanned shots, and an airmailed puck over the net negated any opportunities to reduce the two-goal deficit. Anaheim ended the period with the puck in Chicago's zone, but failed to set anything else set up as the horn sounded. The first period wasn't terrible; there have been much worse, but the Ducks' failure to simply control the puck on their sticks kept them in a 2-0 hole after one, despite holding an 8-6 shot advantage.
Especially considering their history with Game 7s, the Ducks knew they needed to make something happen as soon as the puck dropped before the wheels fell off during yet another postseason exit. Instead, after a chip and chase began by Brandon Saad, the Duck defense found themselves overloaded in the slot, and after the puck found itself on Patrick Kane's stick in the slot, Andersen committed to #88. Unfortunately, though, nobody noticed Saad, the catalyst behind the entire possession, was hanging out by the back door with nobody else within 10 feet of him. Kane took notice, and one simple pass and tap later, Chicago cashed in on a gaping goalmouth, and the Game 7 demons were officially back out in full force. Blackhawks 3, Ducks 0
At this point in the game, the Ducks began to slowly but surely fall apart. 2-on-1s and partial breakaways began to present themselves to the visitors, while the Ducks couldn't keep the puck in the offensive zone for any long stretch of time. Their chosen approach began to mainly consist of throwing pucks from all angles across the crease in front of Crawford, but in any situation, either nobody was home, or the puck slid off a Duck stick, like they've allowed it to do for most of the night. The good guys began to up the intensity, but still couldn't cash in on any rebounds that the Chicago goaltender coughed up. The Hawks quickly responded, and they responded strongly. After a neutral zone turnover by Cam Fowler, a chance by Brad Richards was stopped in front by Andersen, and after he failed to control the ensuing rebound, Marian Hossa crashed the net and deflected the puck off his skate blade and past Freddie's left skate. After video review, a distinct kicking motion was ruled out, and the blowout was officially on. Blackhawks 4, Ducks 0
Anaheim continued to flounder, and at this point, this game seemed all but lost. After some of the most uneventful hockey of the night, it looked as if the Ducks might finally catch a break when Marcus Kruger got sent off for tripping. In a series of events that seemed fitting to the theme of the night, Brandon Saad took off down the ice on a shorthanded opportunity, and Sami Vatanen hooked him, which negated Saad's chance, but also Anaheim's first power play of the night. The Ducks finally got something to go their way on the ensuing 4-on-4 when Ryan Kesler approached the net on a very low angle and lifted the puck over Crawford's shoulder and under the crossbar. It bounced out quick enough to make people second guess the shot, but the overhead camera confirmed it was a goal. Anaheim was finally on the board, but they still found themselves with a mountain to climb. Ducks 1, Blackhawks 4
Very shortly after Kesler put one in the net, he made amends to the Blackhawk faithful by snapping his stick across Saad's body, setting up a 4-on-3. There was only 19 seconds left in the period, so Chicago didn't have time to do any more damage, but they hardly cared, as they left the ice after 40 minutes with a commanding 4-1 lead, despite being outshot 26-16.
With a three goal deficit staring them down, and every second mattering, it didn't help the Ducks' comeback cause when they had to begin the third period killing off two separate penalties. While they managed to successfully do away with both of them, the Hawks still accomplished one of their desired objectives: killing time.
Throughout the series, the Ducks have cashed in on a fair amount of opportunities that have come from jamming in the puck from the top edge of Crawford's crease. They continued to try that strategy tonight, but Chicago became wise to that idea and jammed the slot to prevent any such chance.
The Hawks began to possess the puck slightly more, and instead of pushing for a scoring chance, they were perfectly content with playing keep-away from the Ducks' defense. Whenever the Ducks tried to return the favor, save for a Kyle Palmieri rebound chance, they were harmlessly turned out from the Chicago defense, hurting their comeback chances more and more with every time the puck crossed the blue line out of the Blackhawk defensive zone.
As each second became more and more precious with every tick of the clock, the Ducks finally showed a little bit of life. Patrick Maroon, after spending some time away from the Twins earlier in the game, reunited with them in time for a chance that began with him bringing the puck down the right wing, and after a few stickhandles, threw the puck across the slot to Corey Perry, who one-timed the puck past Crawford's arm. Eight minutes left on the clock and two goals to go. Ducks 2, Blackhawks 4
Anaheim has had tendencies to show fantastic timing in the worst possible way, and after Kesler tried to dipsy-do his way into the slot to create another chance to make things really interesting, he got taken down to the ice and allowed the Hawks to carry the puck the other way. Fowler took his second penalty on the night after hooking Marian Hossa. Chicago wasted little time in shifting the Ducks hopes from "maybe we have a chance" to "lol nope" when Brent Seabrook simply got enough room inside the blue line to unload a cannon that rang off the left post and into the net. No fancy setup, no great pass, just a strong shot that cleanly beat the Anaheim netminder to almost entirely kill his team's comeback hopes. Blackhawks 5, Ducks 2
Out of options, Bruce Boudreau got Andersen off the ice with 3:15 left in the game. Perry had a great chance about a minute later to get his second of the night, after picking up a rebound off Crawford's pad and catching him going against the grain. However, the Chicago tendy recovered quick enough to catch up with Perry on his left post to rob the Anaheim hotshot with the glove. With the way the game had gone, it was surprising that the Hawks didn't capitalize on an empty net goal, especially after Brad Richards just missed the net to the left from the blue line. Shortly after that shot, Johnny Oduya cleared the puck over the glass, sending him to the penalty box for delay of game. The Ducks needed a quick strike to have any sort of chance, and they did. A Fowler shot from the blue line got through traffic, and as Crawford slid to his right to meet the puck, Matt Beleskey got his stick on it to send it the other way and in to the net. Good goal, but since there were only 42 seconds left in the game, it was too little, too late. Ducks 3, Blackhawks 5
Chicago was perfectly happy to kill the remaining time, and they claimed their third Western Conference Championship in the last six years as they eliminated the Anaheim Ducks from the postseason.
* * *
The Good: Honestly? Not a whole lot. The Ducks needed their best effort of the season tonight, they were fully aware of the consequences, and they still fell flat. If anything, this was the deepest run they've made since 2007, and hopefully that gives the returning players a sufficient amount of hunger to not only return to the Conference Final, but to push the envelope a little further.
The Bad: It's been real, Matty B. Crossing my fingers that Bob pulls some crazy voodoo to justify keeping Beleskey, but as an unrestricted free agent who's on track to get paid ca$h money, it's far from unreasonable to assume that this was the last game that he donned a Duck jersey for.
The Ugly: This Game 7 nonsense is getting ridiculous. It's the same script every year: the Ducks take a 3-2 series lead against a good team, they blow their first opportunity to finish them off with a piss-poor Game 6, but it's okay, we still have one more chance at home! They know that they need to bring their A game since they can't afford anything less, but they still always put forth a subpar effort (at best). It's gotten to the point where experience isn't at fault; you can count on one hand how many active players on this roster have not played in a Game 7 before.
The beauty of failure is that it's always a learning experience. You assess the event in question, isolate the mistakes you made, and omit them from your next effort in order to find success. A lot of these guys experienced that failure in 2013 against Detroit. Even more of them went through it last year against Los Angeles. Boudreau's done it with two different teams. Why, then, are the Ducks on the way to the golf course with the same results? It's one thing if the Ducks played a great game but got outplayed by an effort just short of perfection, but it wasn't. Like the two years preceding it, this was a story of one team ready for a winner-take-all scenario, while the other folded under the pressure. It would be assumed that the Ducks would eventually break through after reflecting upon the heartbreaks at the hands of the Red Wings and Kings, but this year, that assumption was unfortunately proved to be misguided.
* * *
Iceholes: Bruce Boudreau and his team. As cynical as this sounds, it's an addition on to the 'ugly'. There's no excuse for the effort that was put on the ice tonight. A vast majority of this roster knows what a Game 7 atmosphere is like. It's not foreign territory to them anymore. Yes, the Blackhawks have been here many a time and experienced both victory and defeat. If they were facing a young team who gets caught with jitters at the high-stakes game they suddenly found themselves in, that would be a different situation entirely from the stage that was set tonight. There's a difference between saying you need to learn from your mistakes and start showing up for Game 7 and actually doing it. Hopefully the Ducks have a good summer and come back in the fall ready to make another deep run, but in the interim, they should take a good look in the mirror and figure out what they need to do in order to key in to a clutch mentality, so when they face their next test of severe importance to this degree, they're finally ready to answer the call.
To our readers: it's a bummer of a way to end the season, but we thank you for sticking with us throughout the season! I, for one, am already looking forward to the fall for another entertaining (and hopefully slightly deeper) run with you guys and girls!